Jonathan Gray didn't need to make a statement that he is one of college baseball's top pitchers.
Oklahoma needed one to solidify its suddenly shaky spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Gray delivered and the Sooners benefitted, beating Baylor 2-0 to open the Big 12 Baseball Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
“I thought really our performance today was about Jon Gray,” Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said. “I think that's pretty clear.”
After throwing six consecutive balls to start the game, Gray was dominant. He tied a career-high with 12 strikeouts in the complete-game win.
Baylor coach Steve Smith heaped heavy praise on Gray.
“He reminds me of, because of his three-pitch command and just the command of the game, he honestly reminds me of (Roger) Clemens, and I'm going back a long time,” Smith said.
Gray initially was going to pitch later in the tournament. The combination of the switch to pool play necessitated by Monday's tornado that led to the cancellation of Wednesday's games and the Sooners' need for quick wins to shore up their postseason resume caused Golloway to shift Gray up.
“I thought today was going to be real important because we had the third-best RPI (in the conference),” Golloway said. “We had a good RPI and an RPI that's deserving of getting into the tournament based on our league. Baylor had the next-best RPI. I thought that's why it was important.”
The Sooners (37-19) will play Texas Tech at 9 a.m. Friday in the second game of pool play.
Gray had struggled in his previous two starts but dominated Baylor when the Sooners needed it most.
One of the differences was freshman catcher Anthony Hermelyn calling the pitches for the first time, instead of getting them from the bench.
Golloway told Gray and Hermelyn on Thursday morning that Hermelyn would be calling the pitches.
“He did a great job — better than I expected,” Gray said. “He made some decisions today that you'd only think a senior or a veteran would make. He's only a freshman but he's got really good baseball IQ and I trust him.”
Hermelyn helped keep Baylor guessing by mixing things up.
“I'd be behind in the count and he'd throw down the breaking ball and that takes a lot of guts,” Gray said. “I felt comfortable with what he was giving me and it worked out.
“I only shook him twice today so that just tells you that I trust him a lot.”
Gray got all the run support he needed in the first, when Jack Mayfield delivered an RBI double on a hit-and-run to follow up Craig Aiken's leadoff single.
The Sooners added another in the third on Hector Lorenzana's RBI single, also on a hit-and-run.
OU had several other chances to score. Mayfield was stranded in the first and in the third, Lorenzana was thrown out at second on a called double steal and Matt Oberste was unable to score.
Still, the Sooners are in a much better position.
“I really just had to clear my head and start over,” Gray said. “I didn't change the game at all. I changed my confidence level and trusted everything and threw it with conviction.”